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Tax increase debates must be ‘up front’

We wonder what Gov. Don Siegelman was thinking on Tuesday when tried to slide a bill through the Senate that would increase oil and gas severance taxes to fund state workers’ pay raises.

The proposal, described as a "surprise" by many in the Capitol, would have switched part of Alabama’s oil and gas severance tax from 2 percent of the gross value to a fixed 86.7 cents per barrel of oil, 9.2 cents per million cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Associated Press. The plan could generate as much as $20 million a year, based on current production rates.

But the plan wasn’t lobbied; it was proposed and debated; it apparently wasn’t even "sold" to the Siegelman supporters who would be needed to pass the legislation through the Senate.

Instead, it was slipped into an amendment on a routine bill, and the Senate in turn decided to take no action on the bill.

It’s a shame. Because as much as our state needs to generate additional tax revenue, and as much as we need to address tax reform issues, this wasn’t the way to handle the issue.

We expect our governor and legislators to have open, honest and up-front discussions

about tax changes and revenue generation methods. We expect more than a last-minute, let’s-sneak-it-in-approach to passing legislation.

With so many larger issues looming for our lawmakers, including Constitutional reform and an overhaul of our tax structure, we don’t need to deflect attention from those issues.

And that’s what’s likely to happen if this tax proposal stirs a debate in the Alabama senate.